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Woman who sued Honda over Civic hybrid mileage speaks out

May 10, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Heather Peters wasn't alone in her gas mileage complaints about the Honda Civic hybrid. Thousands of Honda owners are taking part in a class action lawsuit against the automaker, upset that the hybrid's fuel economy was much worse than advertised.

But when the details of the lawsuit were released, Peters balked.

"The class action came out, it was like $200 and coupon. I said, 'No way,' and went to small-claims court and won nearly $10,000," she said.

But Peters knew Honda wasn't finished.

"I had a huge win, and they were not going to let that stand no matter what, they were going to squash me like a bug and hire the big guns, which they did," she said.

Honda appealed, and this week an L.A. County Superior Court judge overturned the small-claims ruling. He ruled that Honda's advertized mileage numbers were determined by the Environmental Protection Agency, and will vary depending on individual driving habits.

In a written statement, the automaker said:

"Honda is pleased with the court's decision which affirms that Honda was truthful in its advertising...since January of this year, 17 similar small claims cases involving Civic Hybrid owners have been heard in courts across the country and Honda has now prevailed in 16."

But law experts will tell you that a court victory doesn't necessarily translate into a public relations victory that will appeal to Honda customers.

"The publicity, the David vs. Goliath, the little lady going into court and representing herself against the big, bad company that made promises that it didn't fulfill -- that's the downside of this for a company like Honda," said Loyola Law School Professor Stan Goldman.

Goldman says high profile cases like this may also encourage more people to sue big corporations in small-claims court, where attorneys are not allowed.

Peters, who now runs the website dontsettlewithonda.org, says she's hearing from others who are already using her tactics successfully.

And even though she ended up losing, Peters says at least people know they can take on corporate giants by themselves.

"It's worth doing. It's worth standing up for your rights, otherwise they're gonna win every time," she said.


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